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She is an accomplished lawn tennis player, and she even knows judo. In 2018, she became the first Indian woman to bag the title of Miss Deaf Asia. Nishtha Dudeja, who has beaten the odds despite a severe hearing loss, has been a source of inspiration to many. Societal prejudice against the specially-abled, however, upsets her.
"I don't like it when people show sympathy towards the disabled. It makes me sad. We are a part of society and we deserve equal respect and treatment. Disability shold not be considered a stigma or a taboo. I want people to look up to me for strength and positivity and I don't want their sympathy.
"I want equality not only for myself but also for thousands of other specially-abled children who are not even able to raise their voices," Nishtha told IANS, with her father Ved Prakash Dudeja by her side, communicating her thought process to us by way of words.
The 23-year-old is currently pursuing masters in economics from Mumbai's Mithibai College. Prior to it, she completed graduation with B.com from Delhi University.
Talking about her education, Nishtha thanked her parents for supporting her and raising her like a "normal child".
"Whatever I have achieved in life is because of my family's support. They did not send me to a special school. I did my schooling like other normal kids. Yes, there were instances when I was teased by fellow mates but I never paid heed to them. I wanted to make my parents proud so I worked hard to fulfil my dreams," said Nishtha, in town to participate in the Pinkathon Delhi 2019 launch event.
Nishtha's father Ved Prakash is a civil engineer in the Indian Railways. In 2001, he shifted to Delhi from Assam for his daughter's treatment because of a lack of healthcare facilities for the disabled in that state.
Expressing concern over inadequate medical facilities for the disabled all across India, Ved Prakash urged the government to "develop more speech therapy centres" and "accessible facilities in public areas".
Apart from appealing to the government, Nishtha's father also emphasised on the importance of education for the specially-abled.
"When I got to know that my daughter is hearing impaired, I promised myself I'll never consider it a disability . I made sure to give her everything she deserved. I sent her to a regular school. My wife and I ensured she received good education. We sent her to speech therapy sessions, which helped her a lot.
"In our country, most parents do not send their disabled children to schools or discontinue their education in between. This should not happen. Education is important. Nishtha topped in Hindi in her school in class XII. Right now, she is pursuing her masters. If Nishtha can do it, other kids can also do it, too," Ved Prakash said with pride.
Nishtha is now all set to participate in the women's marathon event on September 8. At present, she does not exactly know what to do after her MA, but she still cannot forget the moment when she was crowned Miss Deaf Asia 2018.
"She feels more empowered now. People recognise her. She wanted to create awareness about hearing-impaired people. Earlier she did not have a voice but now she has a voice. Now, people listen to her and draw inspiration from her," Ved Prakash added.
Before signing off, Nishtha shared a "special message" for specially-abled people.
"You should have good intentions about everything and everyone. You should never give up. You should follow your heart and do whatever you want to do. I always listen to my heart. I followed my heart and I won Miss Deaf Asia. We are no less than anyone. We all have super powers," she added.